Wailuku Union Church, Wailuku, Hawaii, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Wailuku Union Church
Location: Wailuku, Hawaii, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 April 2020, 9:00am

The building

The cornerstone for the present church was laid in 1911. It is a traditional looking church, built of stone quarried locally. Many consider it to be one of the most attractive churches in the area. Due to present conditions, however, today’s service was held at the senior pastor’s house and live-streamed via Facebook.

The church

They were incorporated in 1866 at a time when most Christian churches in Hawaii were missions to the indigenous people. However, as sugar plantations began to flourish, English speakers arrived and churches ministering to them became more common. Quoting from their website: ‘Today the congregation reflects Maui’s current diverse ethnic population … We continue to serve God and the community in many different ways through loving God, following Jesus and sharing God’s grace and mercy.’ They maintain a food pantry and an active music program that features concerts and recitals by local musicians.

The neighborhood

Wailuku is a small town on the island of Maui located at the base of an extinct volcano. A popular tourist destination for most of the 20th century, it has now been eclipsed by flashier locales. Even so, it is a picturesque place featuring several historic sites and numerous commercial buildings and private homes from the town’s more prosperous past, all carefully preserved and lovingly maintained.

The cast

The pastor and his ‘assistants,’ apparently his wife and small child.

What was the name of the service?

Palm Sunday Service.

How full was the building?

I don’t think anyone was present at the pastor’s house except himself and his family. I was alone in my apartment. A counter in the upper left of the screen displayed 24 at its highest point.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Under the circumstances, no.

Was your pew comfortable?

My desk chair suits me just fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Chaotic. The pastor seemed unsure of where to find the various props he would use, where his ‘assistants’ were and when they would join the service, and exactly what should be happening and when.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

We were asked to sing the hymn ‘We are marching in the light of God.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A bulletin was available for download; it contained all the prayers, hymns and rubrics that we would need. The pastor scrolled through it on his computer screen for us as the service progressed – apparently believing that none of us had bothered to download it.

What musical instruments were played?

Acoustic guitar.

Did anything distract you?

The informality and uncertainty of it all was a major distraction. The readings and prayers were full of false starts, ad-lib comments, laughing and joking, a child’s whining in the background, etc.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

A fairly haphazard hymn sandwich with palms and communion. We were asked to hang palm branches in a window to show that we worship Christ, and to have communion elements on hand: bread, rice, poi (a traditional Hawaiian food made from the taro plant), arare (a popular Hawaiian snack of rice crackers flavored with soy sauce) or crackers; and grape juice, wine or water. The hymns were a mixture of traditional and contemporary – I’ll have more to say about them in the ‘heavenly’ and ‘other place’ bits below. We heard paraphrases of the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as told in the gospels; and Philippians 2:5-11 (‘Christ became obedient to the point of death …’). Prayers, including the eucharistic prayer, were all Passion-themed. We were asked to pronounce the words of institution all together while holding up the communion elements. I communed with some Wheat Thin crackers (on a ceramic plate; I’m afraid I don’t have a silver or gold paten among my best service) and a very tasty Pink Moscato in one of my best wine glasses.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 — The pastor's message was sound but he would have gotten it across much more clearly had he not been so informal about it.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Incarnation brings God down to our level. God is not a spectator in our lives – what does it mean to be loved by God? God gave up all power in order to be all-loving. Jesus gave it all up for us. Journey with Jesus through Holy Week and into Easter. There were plenty of opportunities during Jesus’ Passion for him to display power – but instead he chose to display love. His love for us gives us hope. In the shadow of death, God comes alongside of us no matter what may befall us. Walk with Jesus this week through the Stations of the Cross.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Hymns: ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: there’s just something about that name;’ the Doxology sung in Hawaiian; ‘What wondrous love is this.’ The communion service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Hymns: ‘Hosanna’ (Carl Tuttle); the musical setting of the Lord’s Prayer (Dennis Allen) – using ‘which art’ and ‘debts/debtors;’ the haphazard informality of it all.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The service concluded with a benediction. Then the pastor waved us a ‘Bye’ and the video feed ended abruptly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Hawaii is three hours behind Arizona, so the service began for me at noon. I had already had lunch – that most comforting of all comfort foods, a bowl of tomato soup. I finished off my communion wine as I typed this report.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

0 – I don’t know what their services were like in church during the best of times, but based on the informality and seeming unpreparedness of this one, I would not be inclined to watch another one.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes – despite it all, it’s communion that did the trick.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Receiving virtual communion.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools